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Investigating Othello: Peeling Away Layers of Meaning

Teachers' Rating:
  11 ratings


May 1999
Terry L. Atkins is a teacher at Blythewood Middle School. He has taught language arts and reading for the last nine years at the middle school level. During the 1998-99 school year, he is teaching sixth grade mixed-ability classes.

Plays/Scenes Covered
What's On for Today and Why

When reading Othello, students will naturally be drawn to the issue of race because our society still grapples with this issue today. But to focus just on race will keep readers from exploring the other issues in the play which, along with race, help to make Othello one of the most powerful dramas to study.


To see how the many issues in the play are interrelated, the class will divide into groups and focus on one aspect of the play. They will then share their findings, looking for relationships between issues. Students will learn to analyze a piece of literature by looking at it from one perspective and then by re-evaluating what they have discovered when other layers of meaning are added.


This lesson takes approximately one week.

What You Need

Folger edition of Othello
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Journals for student note-taking

What To Do

1. The students will have read the entire play before beginning this lesson.


2. Divide the students into small groups. Each group will examine one of the issues listed below:

the pathology of the evil person
how militarism affects characters and events
the role of racism throughout the play
the treatment of women
how colonialism affects characters and events
building and destroying reputations in the play

(Note: these issues are discussed in the introduction to the New Folger edition of Othello.)


4. Each group will look at one act each day and select lines or passages to illuminate its issue. Students will write this text in a journal and explain how the information they found relates to their issue.


5. At the end of each day, each group will have a few minutes to share its findings with the other groups. Encourage students to make note of recurring words, lines, or passages; they should also write down new information that can help explain their issue or that works against their issue.


6. After all five acts have been covered, each student will write in his or her journal about the intersection of issues. How did they interrelate? Did hearing these other perspectives on the play change the student's original ideas about Othello?


7. Then have each group meet and discuss the students' journal entries. Conclude the lesson with a class discussion.

How Did It Go?
Check to see that students took notes from each act and took additional notes after sharing with the other groups. Do their notes reveal a real engagement with the play? Did you see student opinions change as the week went on? If so, then the exercise was successful.

You may also want to have the students evaluate this lesson in the final class discussion. Did the exercise help them understand the play better? How?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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